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Beatrice Jennette steps up to empower girls in Groton

Groton — When Beatrice Jennette hears from girls participating in Striving Toward Empowered Personal Success (S.T.E.P.S.), they often say they learned how to make better choices in life and appreciate their own self-worth.

When she catches up with the young women later in life, they tell her that it’s because of S.T.E.P.S. that they are where they are. The program gave them the courage and confidence to keep going and not let the challenges of life hold them back.

Jennette, the founder of the Groton-based nonprofit focused on empowering girls in sixth through 12th grades, was honored last month with the Jacqueline B. Nixon Community Service Award from Groton Utilities. Jennette was the recipient of the 2020 award. The presentation was delayed because of the pandemic.

Jennette, 60, said her personal experiences drove her to found the program.

Years ago, Jennette said she thought she was “superwoman.” She had just finished college, got married, and was raising two boys. She was on the board of her church and was going to night school to finish her education.

“I thought life was ideal, but then the cape came off and that’s when I suffered my first of five brain aneurysms,” she said.

While some may see it as a tragedy, she saw it as a divine blessing.

Her family, friends and community members gathered around her to help her get through recovery. Her best friend stopped by every day to give her a hug so she would keep pushing onward and not give up. Teachers from her children’s school and the day care center would call her daily to let her know how her children were doing, and the people she worked with also supported her.

“The support that poured into my life from the community and those around me was immeasurable,” she said.

“I was surrounded by so much love, so much caring and giving and supporting, and I also realized how much we need each other,” she added.

While she was recovering, she saw young girls going through different challenges. After she started to get better, she started thinking about how she could give back to her community and decided to start S.T.E.P.S.

She said she had low self-esteem as a girl and did not feel connected to her community, so she wanted to start the organization so other girls would not feel the same way.

S.T.E.P.S. started out with volunteers teaching a group of about 20 eighth grade girls in Marian Galbraith’s classroom at the former West Side Middle School about life skills and self-esteem, self-awareness, boundaries and expectations.

Since then, S.T.E.P.S. has grown to hold in-person programs in three communities — Groton, New London and Norwich — and has a curriculum for girls in grades six through 12th.

S.T.E.P.S. also offers a summer leadership program and a young woman’s leadership day for girls throughout southeastern Connecticut. This past summer, S.T.E.P.S. received an innovation grant from the state and held a summer program focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in which the girls visited colleges and heard about careers from women in the local community.

She said S.T.E.P.S. brings girls together in an environment where there’s no judgment and they feel safe and can talk about their fears and concerns.

In a typical year, the program helps between 150 to 200 girls a year.

She said the program would not be as successful as it is without the men and women who rallied around it, the funders, the communities that support the programs and the people who work and volunteer for S.T.E.P.S.

Jennette said seeing the successes of the young women, and being there to support them, fills her heart with gladness.

Stephanie Flores-Aguilar, 14, a New London High School sophomore, said when she was younger she was really shy and had low self-esteem, but S.T.E.P.S. helped her become confident and appreciate herself more. 

Flores-Aguilar said Jennette is kind and caring: "I can tell just by the tone of her voice that she always wants the best for us and does so much work for the program to provide us with all the opportunities to meet other people."

Flores-Aguilar, who hopes to become a biomedical engineer, recalled listening during a S.T.E.P.S. program to a talk given by a Pfizer scientist working on the COVID-19 vaccine. She said the talk was inspirational to her, especially since the scientist is a woman in the male-dominated S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Jasmine Kapetan, 19, a sophomore at Three Rivers Community College who plans to be an animator for Walt Disney, said S.T.E.P.S. helped her get out of her shell, become more confident and love herself more. She tried out for S.T.E.P.S.' variety show, a mix of a fashion and talent show, and auditioned for her school's talent show.

"Ms. B. has definitely helped me," said Kapetan. "She is a very kind woman, and I love her and she has definitely helped me. I feel like S.T.E.P.S. has also pushed me, Ms. B included, to be my best self in my life."

Fatimah Mansour, 18, a freshman at UConn-Avery Point, remembers making a poster in a S.T.E.P.S. program in eighth grade that said she was going to be the doctor to cure cancer.

"They’ve always pushed us to be the best versions of ourselves and that’s my ultimate goal to be a doctor and to help people," Mansour said.

k.drelich@theday.com

More information

Information about S.T.E.P.S. is available at www.stepsct.org/

People interested in joining S.T.E.P.S. can email programs.steps@gmail.com">programs.steps@gmail.com.

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